Have you been to the ocean when it is hot and humid and the wind rides the waves to cool off the day? Or it is summer and hot at the base of a mountain, but as you climb, the breeze cools you and wakes your attention to the flowers and views?
I am now upstairs in my house, which is in an old apple orchard, in my bedroom, not at a beach or a mountain. The wind is loud, but not noisy, blowing not from a storm but from the few clouds on a bright day. It is a wind blowing direct from the last moments of spring into summer.
I can almost hear waves playing with the wind. It is a healing wind, a comfort.
One of my cats, Tara, jumps on the bed and sits down next to me. The action feels inexplicable and astonishing. She lies down against my side and I pet her. My wife, Linda enters the room and I tell her how surprised I am that Tara had joined me on the bed.
“Why don’t our cats run away?” I ask. “Why do they sit with us, and follow us around?”
“We feed them,” she said, as if I was somehow stricken dumb. “This is their home.”
I couldn’t explain my surprise. The presence of this four legged animal felt too awesome and miraculous, and food, home, were just words that could never do justice to such a feeling.
In the summer issue of the magazine Tricycle, The Buddhist Review there was a review of Training in Tenderness: Buddhist Teachings On Tsewa, The Radical Openness Of Heart That Can Change The World, a book by Dzigar Kongtrul. I just ordered the book. The title touched me.
How do we bring tenderness to our actions? How does acting with tenderness towards others affect how we feel in ourselves?
I was in the gym yesterday, and a woman I knew slightly said hello. I had taught both of her children. She asked how I was and if I had retired from teaching.
Instead of focusing on my workout, I stopped, looked at her and simply sat with her. She said some beautiful things about my teaching and I thanked her for telling me. It was a simple moment, but the feeling she showed me and that I, hopefully, returned, was not so simple. (Or maybe, in another way, it was?)
The review of Kongtrul’s book said that in each of us there is a seed of enlightenment. This seed includes our innate potential for warmth. By nurturing our potential to give and receive with tenderness, we feed that seed of enlightenment. We overcome selfishness and reduce suffering, both in the world around us and in ourselves.
I wanted to read that book that instant. Such is the power of a book. It can invoke this yearning for knowledge and personal transformation, or just act as a catalyst for us to see what is waiting in our mind. Of course, learning from a book is a lot more complex than just holding it in our hand. We have to greet the book, devour it in the right way.
When we greet someone (or some thing) with kindness or tenderness, or with a full moment of attention, we feel great. The other person certainly feels our presence, but so do we feel present. We feel more alive and cherished.
Tenderness is nourished by and nourishes presence. This works with people, cats—and books. In this time of aggressive self-deception, personal attack and narcissism, it might seem foolish to talk about tenderness. How can tenderness compete with bitterness, cruelty and selfishness? Why be vulnerable in the face of attack?
But I must say this. I never feel stronger than when I feel tender. I never feel more alive and worthwhile. And I think this is exactly what many of us in the world need right now.
I think this is exactly what is needed to wake us up to what we might do to heal the pain we hear shouting in the headlines every day. We need to listen to the different winds of the world and say, with tenderness to those we meet: sit with me. I will listen to you, and you will listen to me.
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